Thursday, June 13, 2013

Farewell, My Queen (2012)

The 2012 French production of Les adieux de la reine or Farewell, My Queen, based upon the novel by Chantal Thomas, is perhaps one of the most damaging of all films to the character of the real Marie-Antoinette. There are stunningly beautiful and atmospheric passages in the novel Farewell, My Queen which capture so perfectly the last tragic summer at Versailles. Some of that atmosphere made it into the film, which realistically shows the dirt and grime of the palace as well as its splendor, glimmering with an especial magnificence in the candlelight. Other than that, the film bears little resemblance to the book. With Diane Kruger's stunning portrayal Marie-Antoinette, more weight is given to the calumnious reports of the Queen as the cold-blooded, calculating, licentious and manipulative consort of a befuddled king. It is regrettable, because a radiant performance like Miss Kruger's could have given the world genuine insight into the real Marie-Antoinette if it had been entirely based upon history.

The movie centers upon a drab fictional character named Sidonie Laborde, who portrays a sort of junior Reader to the Queen during the days following the fall of the Bastille in July 1789. In the novel Les Adieux, Sidonie is a mature woman who goes to daily Mass; in the film she is a young girl, co-dependently fixated upon Marie-Antoinette and the Queen's relationship with Madame de Polignac. It is as if the story were built around Fragonard's painting "La Liseuse" or "A Young Girl Reading" (below) except in the movie the colors are muted and dismal. Sidonie has no life outside of being the Queen's Reader; perhaps this is an attempt of the filmmakers to make a comment upon the nature of monarchy, trying to infer that it robbed people of their personality. However, the film is such a mishmash of unrelated scenes that it is difficult to discern what the message might be, if there is one. One minute Sidonie is passionately kissing the gondolier in the pantry and the next she is gazing with curiosity upon the naked body of a drugged Madame de Polignac. There is little coherency from scene to scene. Similarly, Marie-Antoinette is shown obsessing over Gabrielle de Polignac and later is shown as a devoted wife, frantic about her husband.

Whereas the book mentions the recent death of the Dauphin Louis-Joseph, the movie leaves out the little boy completely. Neither book nor film take into enough account the intense grief which Marie-Antoinette was enduring at the time. She was not morbidly preoccupied with Gabrielle de Polignac, as the film depicts; she was mourning her son. Furthermore, the film hints at a lesbian relationship between the Queen and Madame de Polignac but there is no evidence that Marie-Antoinette had a carnal relationship with anyone but her husband. It is true the queen had a great capacity for friendship, and that she was not always prudent in her choice of companions. In regard to Madame de Polignac, the friendship had early on spilled over into an innocent girlish infatuation of a young inexperienced wife for an older one who was already the mother of a growing family. Louis himself encouraged and cultivated the friendship between his wife and Gabrielle, whose discretion he trusted immensely. No serious biographer of the queen gives the least credence to the scandalous stories; even Lady Antonia Fraser insists in her recent biography that there is not the slightest indication that Marie-Antoinette ever participated in homosexual acts. However, people with promiscuous backgrounds tend to judge others according to their own behavior. The French court, being the French court, was the kind of setting that shadowed the most innocent relationships with tawdry connotations. Marie-Antoinette, with her beauty, naiveté and sentimentality, was the perfect target for every sort of calumny.

I do not care for the portrayal of the Duchesse de Polignac in the film. Although Gabrielle is shown as a swarthy and swaggering strumpet, in reality she had delicate white skin, blue eyes and was known for her gracefulness and charm of manner. In other words, she was a Lady. By July 1789, she was also a grandmother, as well as already being the mother of four children, including a seven and a nine year old. As Governess of the Children of France, she had to be in constant attendance upon the Dauphin. Whatever went on her in her private life was discreet. She would not have ripped off an apron in disdain as she is shown doing in the film; the Queen and her ladies wore aprons at Trianon and Gabrielle is said to have influenced the Queen towards simple, rustic attire.

The film is at its best when it depicts events that really happened, such as the Queen reading her tearful petition to the National Assembly for permission to join the King if he were to be imprisoned, and for the moving farewell of Louis and Marie-Antoinette with their two surviving children at her side. Those scenes are so well done that it is heartbreaking that the rest of the film is such a disjointed and mediocre aberration. The filmmakers obviously hate the very memory of the French monarchy, as well as the long dead Marie-Antoinette. Farewell, My Queen is yet another creative twist of the knife into her reputation. For it is the reputation of Marie-Antoinette which must be destroyed by those who wish to continually justify the violent overturning of society known as the Revolution.

Lea Seydoux as the Young Reader

Fragonard's La Liseuse (Young Girl Reading)



Uapa said...

It's a shame that someone still thinks that bad of her.
I can understand why people burned inside and Revolution exploded. I can understand that they were so blinded to be that violent.
But I stopped believing the queen was just someone who didn't care or evn liked that, since when I was 12.
From what you say, those who made the film, including actors, didn't care at all about studying the character and try to understand her. Hardly older than a child, marrying someone she didn't even know, in the best/worse place of Europe: Versailles.
It's a shame.

julygirl said...

You are right on with your review and critical analysis. Seems many film makers choose subjects where they can indulge in lavish sets, costumes and licentious behavior such as the series "The Tudors", while rewriting history to suit their whims and 'Box Office' appeal.

Lucy said...

This film was truly a waste of talent and frankly ....anyone's time. I also wrote a review of this when the movie was released here in Montreal. Initially I couldn't wait to go see it- and was thrilled to be able to watch it in its original French version.
Truly, there was absolutely no essence or credibility to this film- what a shame that Kruger was used to depict such lies! Except for the few beautiful costumes and settings ( but rather more emphasis on the drudgery, cold and misery of the palace than its beauty)- other than that there is absolutely no substance here.
At the end, my eldest daughter and I remained speechless...'is that it?!' We asked each other...what a serious waste of time. Nothing like the book- the history - or great fiction for that matter- nothing at all.
Thanks for your review Elena- I really get what you mean.

ImportanttoMadeleine said...

Well said! I always appreciate your efforts to set the record straight when it comes to Marie Antoinette. It's troubling to think of the many people who will view the movie,and others like it, and thereafter consider what they've seen to be historical fact.

Anna Gibson said...

Excellent analysis, Elena!

I feel the crux of the problem with the film is that it changed the entire center of the story and in doing so, doomed the characters into stereotypes that don't work even half as well as their book counterparts and more importantly, do not fit with what we historically know of them..

The book was about the dying light of Versailles, the crumbling of centuries of finely tuned etiquette and custom, the decay of a world where everything was centered on the French King and Queen.

The film, in the other hand, is much more focused on the almost "love triangle" created between Marie Antoinette, the duchesse de Polignac, and Sidonie. By making Sidonie younger, her entire dynamic with the queen changes: she is no longer a woman who is of a similar age who is highly devoted to the queen because of her charm and kindness, she's a young woman with a girlish infatuation.

The queen's friendship with Polignac wasn't exactly wonderfully portrayed in the book, in the book you could at least see -why- the queen was so taken with her... in the film she's cold and haughty and there's nothing of the warmth and charm that even Sidonie recognizes in her in the text. Marie Antoinette in the book is kind, charismatic, at turns majestic and playful--in a word, the reader can understand why the reader is so devoted to her and why the reader has been so impacted by the death of the world that once centered on the queen. In the film, however, she is almost given two separate personalities, and it is a shame because in half of her scenes, it is difficult to understand why Sidonie would be infatuated with her, much less devoted. It is a shame because Kruger does provide a wonderful performance... but the material she was given just wasn't up to par with the book.

elena maria vidal said...

Yes, Upapa, it is a shame. Julygirl, lust and money seem to be the only plot devices some people understand. Lucy, I remember your fine review and my reaction was the same! Thank you, Madeleine, it's sad that people will never know the truth. Thank you, Anna, for the clear description of the difference between book and film!

lara77 said...

Thanks Elena Maria! GREAT reason to never see the film; I trust your review of Marie Antoinette better than anyone. The French really hold on to the myth of their barbarous revolution; how could they show the monarchy with anything but contempt. The French continue to live with one of the greatest myths of all time; the bloody lying foundation of the Republic.